Tomas Barreto said no to Microsoft. After two summers working in the software giant's accounting division, Barreto turned down an offer for full-time work. Instead, he went in search of a start-up where he could play a bigger role, and perhaps get a bit more recognition for his contributions.
The same year, Barreto met Dylan Smith, a classmate who founded Box.net, a cloud-computing software start-up that ranks 152 on the 2010 Inc. 500 list. The two hit it off and soon Smith offered Barreto a job at Box.net, which was based in Palo Alto. Barreto decided to make the move. "One of the biggest selling points for me was having that level of impact and ownership, giving me a lot of the skills I needed to grow," says Barreto who's now 24. "I'd have more of the ability to make decisions from a product and engineering standpoint and have the resources to become a manager, which I am now."
Apart from his speedy promotion, Barreto has also enjoyed the excitement and risk-reward element to his job, which he thinks encourages him to challenge himself more. He's happy, productive, and feels valuable at work. He's not sure he'd feel the same way at a large corporation.
How can you compete with the big dogs when searching for new talent? We've created a list of strategies companies can use to attract, connect with, and hire the country's most talented college graduates.
Recruiting on College Campuses: Focus On Your Strengths and Connect
Companies, especially small and growing companies, should realize they are in a position to offer employees a lot of room to grow. Even if they can't match the starting salary of bigger companies, start-ups can make employees feel a lot more important by fostering open communication and project ownership.
Aaron Levie, a co-founder of Box.net, believes this is one of the biggest draws that brought Barreto and other great young employees to his company. He says candidates are generally good at choosing if they want to take the start-up route or work for a large corporation, but as a founder or representative of a start-up, it is your job to communicate the advantages and disadvantages of each. "When you're working for Microsoft or Google, a specific project will have a longer release cycle and you won't see the benefit for a much longer period of time," he says. As Levie describes, this is the difference "between being in the rain nine months of the year or being in the sun 12 months of year."
Experts agree that start-ups are in a unique position to allow employees to grow and innovate. Beverly Principal, assistant director of employment services at Stanford University's Career Development Center, says the most successful companies are the ones that communicate to students how involved they can be in their new idea. "The No. 1 thing that students are attracted to at startups is the ability to be visible and play a larger role of a really cool product or project," Principal says. "At a larger company, maybe the excitement isn't there, or it's harder to figure out or harder to find," she says.
Beyond recognizing those advantages, students also want to feel as if your company has a genuine interest in pursuing them. Much of this gets back to old-fashioned sales and marketing. Principal says that the most successful companies at career fairs will go out of their way to say hi to students and give feedback on their resumes. They will also be knowledgeable about their organization and what kind of environment students find appealing.
Dig Deeper: 10 Tips For Recruiting at Business Schools
Recruiting on College Campuses: Overcome Name Recognition Shortcomings
Emerging from obscurity is never easy. One of the inherent challenges to recruiting for any small company is getting prospective talent to relate to your brand when they likely have never heard of it. Principal advises smaller companies to first get students to understand what they do and who they are before trying to pursue them. "Is there something that the company does that they can start a conversation with a student about?" she asks. Once again, it's all about communication skills and finding areas that truly interest people.
Mary Scott, founder of the Scott Resource Group, based in West Hartford, Connecticut, has been consulting in the recruiting field for more than 20 years. She agrees that building a warm and welcoming presence on-campus is a great way to reach students. "An awful lot of large employers waste a lot of money and don't invest what truly matters to students, and that's face time," Scott says.
Some of the ways she suggests companies build on-campus rapport is to get involved with student associations and leadership groups that align with your business. Don't bother spreading your resources too thin by sending recruiters just to job fairs all across the country. The most efficient recruitment programs focus their searches on specific schools or even specific programs within those schools.
For instance, Scott cites a consulting firm in Chicago that has established a virtual stranglehold over students in Notre Dame's graduate business program. The firm has zeroed in on the exact type of employee it needs and uses its alumni presence at the school to continue networking with contacts and incoming students. As Scott points out, the firm used its established resources efficiently without having to branch too far out.
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Recruiting on College Campuses: Get Creative
If you're struggling to find a personal inroad to your target population, try getting a little creative. Check out an advertisement that Box.net took out in the Stanford Daily last spring before the career fair. It featured a complicated math puzzle to attract students from Stanford's elite engineering program. Those who figured out the puzzle could enter a contest for a chance to win an iPad.
The ad's purpose was to "narrowly address" a desired audience, says Levie. "It was the cheapest thing we spent on the recruiting effort but it had the highest reward," he says.
Any way to create a buzz on campus will go a long way in terms of brand recognition. Sponsoring events, guest speaking at student organizations, or participating in alumni networks are each parts of the labor-intensive method of college recruiting. "You don't need to be a household name by any stretch," Scott says. "You just need to attract students attention and get them to start thinking about what they can do for your firm."
Dig Deeper: How to Manage Your Company's Brand
Recruiting on College Campuses: Make Them Want To Come To You
At this point, almost every CEO wants to make staff happiness a top priority. But how can a scrappy start-up compete with the employee-indulgent Zappos and Googles of the world? Don't think of it as a competition: It turns out that making employees feel at home is always more personal than material.
"Culture is how you treat people, the intangible perks, the office environment, and the overall opportunity for growth," says Seth Besmertnik, CEO and co-founder of Conductor, an SEO measurement-and-technology firm based in New York. "People who are great will always have lots of options, and recognize that you need to sell them as much as they need to sell you," says Besmertnik, whose commitment to quality culture landed Conductor on Crain's New York Business' "Best Places to Work in NYC" list in 2009.
In his effort to "sell" prospective employees, Besmertnik has tried lots of tactics. He's sent surprise packages with company baseball bats; he's waited outside people's apartments. He's even sent pictures of people's seats in the office with personalized nameplates on them. Though the company's success can now speak for itself, Conductor still greets interviewees at the door with a folder containing an itinerary with pictures of whom they will be meeting with that day. "It's such an easy thing to do, but it makes people impressed with us," says Besmertnik.
Another way to expose your company's culture is through internships. Intern programs allow students and employees to sow relationships for the future. Box.net's Levie admits that this is one of the reasons larger companies have been so successful at retaining top talent, as many will hesitate to relinquish personal connections they had within a company. "You really want to attract some of the best talent before they are in a position to make a life commitment," he says. Offering the internship is only half the battle, though, as you must keep in contact with your interns to make sure they enjoyed working at your organization and want to come back.
Dig Deeper: How to Make New Employees Feel at Home
Recruiting on College Campuses: Use Social Media to Your Advantage
Common sense would lead us to believe that social media is the best way to target a student audience. The college generation spends endless amounts of hours online interacting with friends, so why shouldn't we interact with them there as well?
Unfortunately, not all students want employers entering their private space. While finding a job may be a top priority, students still want to separate that time from their social outlets. "What employers and a lot of marketing firms quite frankly don't understand is that students do not want them interacting with them on social sites," says Scott, who has conducted focus groups with students on recruiting. "I've had students tell me that they feel stalked by employers and strangely enough, consider it an unprofessional practice," she says.
In spite of such obstacles, there are appropriate ways of using social media to connect with students. LinkedIn is one of the most effective tools that companies can use to reach out and network with prospective employees. But a site like LinkedIn only works if you can get employees on board. "At Box, we encourage recent grads and more senior employees to join their college alumni groups on LinkedIn and regularly post job openings," says Levie. CEOs like Levie and Besmertnik are apt to point to their roles as the company's No. 1 evangelist, letting the excitement trickle down. "This has to happen organically, with employees getting genuinely excited about the features we're rolling out or a revenue milestone," Levie says.
Or, you can try something a little old school. Besmertnik says he thinks chivalry is back. He encourages employees to reach out to recruits with hand-written notes or e-mails to interact with them personally and make them feel important. If your employees have genuine enthusiasm about your company – enthusiasm that they are willing to share on Facebook and Twitter – it will likely translate to prospective employers as well.
Dig Deeper: How To Use Twitter as a Recruiting Tool